Why do we suffer?

If God exists and they say that He is good and almighty ... Why doesn’t he stop evil in the world? We are in front of the problem of evil, never fully resolved. But if you want to investigate further, if any response is not enough, with this video you can keep seeking.

10 questions about suffering

God is perfectly good, immensely and endlessly good. Being perfectly good, He created good things. Then, where is evil and where does it come from? How does evil fit in a universe created and arranged by God?

But maybe we should ask about the nature of evil before asking about its origin; that is, what is evil? Saint Augustin already thought about this and he arrived at the conclusion that evil does not exist in itself; evil, he explains, is the absence of goodness. And if evil does not exist in itself, it is no longer necessary to reason about the origin of something does not exist.

First of all, we must differentiate between the moral evil and the physical evil, that is, between the evil caused by ourselves and the evil whose cause is to be found in nature.

So, the origin of the moral evil is to be found in our freedom or rather, in the bad use we make of it and, thus, it is our responsibility. In this sense, we can talk about terrorism, war, hunger in the world; and also about egoism, hate, lack of understanding and so on.

Instead, the immediate cause of the physical evil is to be found in nature. Sometimes, the results of certain natural phenomena are destruction and suffering. These natural phenomena are caused by physical laws and are important for the balance of the physical universe. Thus, we cannot say that in themselves they are bad.

Without a doubt whatsoever, the deepest evil has its origin in the man’s heart. The most evident proof is the fact that it is possible to suffer and, at the same time, be happy. Still, it is not possible to be bad and truly happy. Certainly, illness, death, and the terrible tragedies caused by natural catastrophes are an inexhaustible source of suffering. But the evil generated by hate, envy, cruelty, the evil that pours from the heart is the one that suffocates the life of the human being. And it is the most unbearable.

There are those who defend that evil and suffering are necessary for our maturity and to appreciate the good things of life. Can a person who has never suffered achieve a psychical and emotional maturity? The famous English writer C.S. Lewis holds in some of his works that suffering is like the chisel used by God to mould us, to make us better persons (CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain).

In all times and cultures we find proverbs that highlight the educational value of suffering. Certainly, when a person is able to face suffering and overcome it, measuring himself or herself with hardships, that person will obtain some blessings from the proof he or she has been subjected to. Many distinguished men have made statements about this: “There are things that are not properly seen until they are looked at by eyes that have cried” (Luis Veuillot). “Man is an apprentice, pain is his master and nobody knows himself until he has suffered” (Alfred de Musset). “The man is discovered when measured with an obstacle” (Sain-Exupéry).

They are beautiful sentences, and somehow they are right. But we must realize that they do not bring comfort to whom has faced hardship, failure, and pain and has overcome them.

The answer to this question is that this is precisely what He did, in the beginning He created a world without sin, as told by the Genesis Book. But the man used his freedom for evil, for sin.

To ask why God din’t create the human being without freedom to sin would be like asking why He did not create squared circles. A world without freedom would be a world without the human being. Freedom belongs to our own essence, to our own being. A human being without freedom is something that is not possible. If God had created a world without freedom, this would have been, indeed, a world without hate, but also without love; a world without sin, but also a world without virtue; a world without suffering, but also a world without joy. God has given us free will so in this way we would be able to love Him and to love the other men, because without freedom love cannot exist. It can only be need. Love, to be so, must be voluntary.

Of course, God, when He created us free, ran the risk that man could use his freedom not to love Him, but to move away from Him; not to do good, but to do evil. Thus, we can say that sin is the price of love. From the moment God decided to create the human being, rational and free, He was assuming the possibility that man could sin. Why? Because God is so good and Almighty that He can get good from evil.

By offering His help to achieve superior goods from all the evil we endure, though this does not mean that evil changes into a good. However, this is not the same as thinking about the Providence of God as a plan hanging over our heads, as an inexorable fate. The Divine Providence is a presence, a company offered to man and requires, therefore, man’s devotion, his trust and surrender into the tender hands of God.

Of course, man can accept this company, this help of God in his life, or he can reject it. God does not coerce us, does not force us. God offers His help, but He does not impose it on us. God acts with the highest of tenderness; He acts loving us, inspiring us, talking in our ear, arousing ideas and feelings, persuading our will, attracting us towards Him. Sometimes God acts in our life in a mysterious way, and it is hard for us to recognise the way He has been guiding us. Other times we can recognise His intervention through the persons He places in our way, the talents we receive, the events that happen, the interests He awakens in us.

We have some examples of these in the Bible, in the Stories of Joseph, Moises, and Tobias. And we can also find some amazing examples in the lives of great saints, like Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who was wounded in the Pamplona siege and forced to rest. During this period, he read some spiritual books that changed his life in a radical way. The case of Saint Francis of Assisi is similar. St. Francis was taken prisoner and imprisoned in Perusa when he was 20 years old; this allowed him to look back at all his life, until that moment empty and trivial, and his later conversion transformed him into one of the greatest saints of the Church’s History. A bullet wound and a compulsory stay in prison are, undoubtedly, something bad. But God was there to help these men to take advantage of those moments of pain, and He guided them to achieve a superior good.

To believe in the Providence is the same as to live always trusting God, knowing that we are in His hands, that nothing happens without Him allowing it and that, being as He is, the Supreme Good, all is for our blessing. To believe in Providence is the same as believing that the love of God is not defeated by evil, but that on the contrary, “it defeats evil with good” (Rom 12, 21).

Thus, when a person is ill doctors try to find the cause of the illness that could be caused by a virus, a bacterium, the malfunctioning of an organ, etc. But what they will not say is that the cause of the disease is God. When somebody gets killed in a car crash, the cause can be a mechanical failure, a dog that crossed the street or an icy patch. What we cannot think is that God placed that icy patch there or the dog for the car to crash, nor He manipulated the engine the previous night. In the same way, when facing whichever misfortune, a Christian cannot think that God is the one who caused that suffering. If God has allowed that pain or misfortune, it is because He is going to get a higher good: that’s what a Christian should know and think.

So, the meaning of the Providence of God in the world is truly appears when it promotes and gets good from all the possible forms of evil present in the world and in the man. This is the essential content of the message of the Salvation of Christ.

A Christian has to build a better world, where justice and love will reign. The absolute trust that we have in God does not excuse us from carrying out actions. The Biblical assertion of the universal Providence of God cannot decline in fatalism or apathy; in fact, the Bible states repeatedly that God created man free and that it is our duty to make a good use of that freedom,

Thus, in the Christian vision, the History is a joint work of God’s Providence and the freedom of man: God created the world and acts in it through His Providence; and the man, with his intelligence and freedom, must collaborate with God in the world’s perfection. A Christian cannot ignore the worldly realities, he cannot remain “stunned looking high at the sky” because he is involved in the world’s perfection.

If we look at God when we are searching the meaning of so much pain, we will find that God’s answer is Jesus Christ in the Cross. This is the baffling answer of God. In the Cross we see a disfigured Christ, broken by pain, torn, refused by all, cursed by men; but He still loves them. In the Cross we find a Christ who takes our pain and does not leave us alone in the dark night of suffering. If the mystery of evil is indecipherable, God’s love is even more. From the Cross, Christ reveals to us the madness of His love and He invites us to return to His Father’s house. And we know that His Father is waiting for us with His arms wide open.

Christ has not come to erase suffering, nor to explain it: He has given a new meaning to it. When He accepted and assumed grief and suffering, sharing it with men, He transformed it into the Mystery of Salvation. Faith in the sacrifice of Christ in the Cross is the right response to the problem of evil. Or rather, it is not the answer, but the “good news”: love triumphs over evil. Christ has come to this world to save us, to free us from sin. Christ can help us overcome our wretchedness, our selfishness, our envy; in short, He can help man so he stops doing evil to other men. Thus, Christianity cannot remove neither grief nor suffering; it can only fill it with meaning looking at the Cross.

On the other hand, we know that the suffering of this life will come to an end and that in the future world God promised us “and he will make his living-place with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them, and be their God. And he will put an end to all their weeping; and there will be no more death, or sorrow, or crying, or pain; for the first things have come to an end” (Rev 21, 3-4).

However, all this should not lead us to an attitude of mere resignation. In the Gospel we will not find resignation or conformism. The Gospel teaches that evil can be defeated by good and, thus, it does not raise the flag of resignation, but that of hope. As Martín Descalzo used to say: “we should not mix up resignation with the quiet acceptance of reality, provided that it is understood that reality is not a stone where to cry, but a springboard where to stand firmly to jump constantly towards a better reality. Passive resignation is a daily suicide; Christian acceptance is the daily effort to stand up after stumbling” (Martín Descalzo, Razones para el amor. Atenas, Madrid 1996.

The Christians’ attitude when facing grief and suffering must be that of the fight to overcome it and, when this is not possible, to associate it with Christ’s suffering in the Cross, living it as an experience of salvation and fullness of God.

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